The pleasurable desire to move to a beat is known as groove and is partly explained by rhythmic syncopation. While many contemporary groove-directed genres originated in the African diaspora, groove music psychology has almost exclusively studied European or North American listeners. While cross-cultural approaches can help us understand how different populations respond to music, comparing African and Western musical behaviors has historically tended to rely on stereotypes. Here we report on two studies in which sensorimotor and groove responses to syncopation were measured in university students and staff from Cape Coast, Ghana and Williamstown, MA, United States. In our experimental designs and interpretations, we show sensitivity towards the ethical implications of doing cross-cultural research in an African context. The Ghanaian group showed greater synchronization precision than Americans during monophonic syncopated patterns, but this was not reflected in synchronization accuracy. There was no significant group difference in the pleasurable desire to move. Our results have implications for how we understand the relationship between exposure and synchronization, and how we define syncopation in cultural and musical contexts. We hope our critical approach to cross-cultural comparison contributes to developing music psychology into a more inclusive and culturally grounded field.
In music, the rhythms of different instruments are often syncopated against each other to create tension. Existing perceptual theories of syncopation cannot adequately model such kinds of syncopation since they assume monophony. This study investigates the effects of polyphonic context, instrumentation and metrical location on the salience of syncopations. Musicians and nonmusicians were asked to tap along to rhythmic patterns of a drum kit and rate their stability; in these patterns, syncopations occurred among different numbers of streams, with different instrumentation and at different metrical locations. The results revealed that the stability of syncopations depends on all these factors and music training, in variously interacting ways. It is proposed that listeners’ experiences of syncopations are shaped by polyphonic and instrumental configuration, metrical structure, and individual music training, and a number of possible mechanisms are considered, including the rhythms’ acoustic properties, ecological associations, statistical learning, and timbral differentiation.
Absolute pitch (AP) is the ability to identify or produce pitches of musical tones without an external reference. Active AP (i.e., pitch production or pitch adjustment) and passive AP (i.e., pitch identification) are considered to not necessarily coincide, although no study has properly compared these abilities. Using a novel computerized pitch adjustment test, we investigated active AP ability in musicians with and without AP (ages 18-43). We found a significant correlation between active and passive AP indicating that AP possessors (APs) identify and produce pitch equally well. Furthermore, we found that APs generally undershoot when adjusting musical pitch, a tendency that decreases when musical activity increases. Finally, APs are less accurate when adjusting the pitch to black key targets than to white key targets. Hence, AP ability may be partly practice-dependent and we speculate that APs may benefit from frequent contact with fixed standard chroma to keep in tune.